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Transcript from a solution is in the room, newspaper, 2013
a solution is in the room.
Almost immediately after being given these words, I wrote them down on Post-lt note in handwritten capitals. I can’t stand my own handwriting; the shape of the S and the wide loop of the lower case L that often overlaps on other letters. The Post-It was in my wallet for a week or two before I stuck it to the wall above my desk. It lost its stickiness quickly, for reasons that will become clear later on in this text and have everything to do with the lungs and being able to breathe in a
room full of dust. In the end, it was a pin that forcefully held it in place.
There are paper shredders marketed for the small home office that can shred between 4 and 16 A4 sheets at a time, as well as credit cards and DVDS. All kinds of discomforting and secretive information can pass through the shredder’s mouth and into its 20-30 litre bin. I bought one of these lower end models. Within three days I had filled 4 large bin liners, swollen fat. The pages of the shop catalogue were laminated. The whole colour scheme of the home office section was white and beechwood with a few grey plastic exceptions which included shredders and fax-scanner-printer combo machines. Looking through the catalogue I thought of my desk at home and a small Ikea filing unit with wheels and drop down files. I thought of pen holders that have come and gone. A compass set purchased long ago. A calculator, protractor, somewhere in a box.
In the catalogue, lording over the available options, was an image of a man in a white shirt and dark grey trousers. There was no sign of a jacket or a tie. Perhaps these were draped across the back of a feathered out kitchen chair in this man’s tiny apartment. Who knows how large his apartment really is? This man was leaning back on his home office chair. A purple coloured text box with rounded corners, as if from outer space, cuts in on the scene and conjures a few things for him to worry about. The appropriation of his identity admin, the sublimation of the self and the possibility of disappearing.
He should begin to shred. What other decision is there? He should reduce the risks of compromising himself to criminals and he should turn any such possibility into a sea (a mountain?) of tiny severed pieces. Half a digit here, half a digit there. The slight curve of a blue logo. Something incomprehensibly small written in English. Who can try turning that into a life-blooded being. What sort of disfigured character identities are imaginable? What fantasy beasts can be dreamt of?
At the upper end of the market spectrum, who knows what’s possible and at what price? Maximum material intake. Total annihilation. No imaginable painstaking recovery. The kinds of shredder not for sale on the high street, but perhaps in some faceless industrial unit on the edge of a city with a corrugated roof, where storage and trade transport advantages outweigh all else. Here, we might imagine the kind of shredder that would be required by a government administrative office on the eve of a revolution. We might imagine other shredders that are the answer to embezzlement and other callous administrative acts. Shredders that might be in a position to compete with ideas of arson or suicide or the thought of making home in a small village in the backwaters of South America where people don’t ask questions and have no access to the internet.
I started with bank statements that dated back a decade. There were a few good years. I moved an to job applications, receipts and warranties, birthday cards and personal letters. The whole process took 3 days. For the most part there was music. Some of it was my own and some of it was radio. Sometimes I would break to get a sandwich or throw together some pasta and a very simple sauce. All of the time inside that room. I kept a large bottle of water and would drink from it regularly. The room was dry with bits of indestructible paper; indestructible because these bits were the exact thickness of the blades kept inside the shredder’s plastic moulding. The shredder could cut no smaller.
All moisture was sapped and suckered. The damp of the eye, the clamminess of the mouth, and the stickiness of adhesive backed paper. The whole room was as hot as hell. There was dust that drifted across the day’s mid-afternoon sunbeams. It was a pleasant feeling to put a hand in amongst the shreds, which only 15 minutes earlier had been a pile of red headed bank statements. It was like putting a hand into a warm bath, testing the temperature and realising it was just right. The major difference, of course, being the lack of moisture in the room. The paper felt excitable and delinquent, and yet in a box with delicate ceramics, it could prevent damage as a result of a heavy breaking car or the indiscriminate ‘seen it all’ hands of courier drivers.
There’s a story by Philip K Dick called The Preserving Machine about a man obsessed with music and Its fare of survival in the modern world. I’ve told it to many people over a drink or two. He builds a machine that converts all his musical manuscripts into creatures, each with their own natural survival instincts and evolutionary capabilities; creatures with more chance than a piece of paper to outlast the apocalypse, or else being placed in the wrong hands. This machine saw the future in the examples of wolves in Australia, or Parrots perched on the shoulders of movie pirates, or cats at boutique grooming parlours. A future opted out of climate controlled rooms, plan chests and acid-free sleeves. Without archives and their imposing orders, without admitting everything is dead; a future where manuscript paper, all paper, objects of different kinds, could be granted a life drive of their own and allowed to linger in the back garden and stretch out in the sun.
The Philip K Dick Story doesn’t end well. The creatures begin to evolve beyond their musical origins. They begin to bicker and fight. There is breeding across the species. The different kinds of musical dogs, becoming ever more mongrel with each generation, and have only ever then the capacity to make mongrel music. He panics and starts up the machine again. This time in an attempt to reverse the process and transform his motley crew of creatures back into manuscripts and musical notations. Once transformed back through the machine, the man is distraught. The musical notations are nothing but an incomprehensible junk.
The story ends there but a metaphor lingers. Those manuscripts went from paper to living beings and back to paper, carrying the imprint of what was music somewhere in its body memory. The irreversible narrative force of history. The anxious desire of permanence and afterlife. Good music versus bad. The latent animism of objects. Or something like that. I looked at the shredder again and checked that I was pleased with it.
The room had little left in it. The books had been packed away several weeks earlier and the few things on the wall were now defined in cubic metres in a self-storage centre on the outskirts. How thinly I’ve lived or how thickly. The only book left was Bataille’s The Cradle of Humanity, a essays written about the Lascaux caves and other prehistoric findings discovered in the early part of the twentieth century. This was an age of scampering outdoorsy youths with grazed knees and their own knives. An age of progressive churches, an enlightened science and developing archaeological technologies. What other age could have discovered these caves and understood them so convincingly? What is approximately 50 years of discovery, legitimacy and understanding, when stacked against 40,000 years of prior illegibility? 40,000 years in the dark.
There are now 9 or 10 black bags now stuffed into the recycling. I look at the shredder one last time before walking out of the room. The shredder’s plastic moulded design is so unwillingly historically specific, it saddens the scene. How will it fare in the years to come? I made a decision to leave it behind some time ago. That and the Post-It note.
By Matt Packer, writer and curator.
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Transcript from All Stuff Is Farce, 2010
To begin with a title?
To begin with a title?
Words are in space, yet not in space. They speak of space, and enclose it. A discourse on space implies a truth of space, and this must not derive from a location within space, but rather from a place imaginary and real – and hence ‘surreal’, yet concrete. And, yes – conceptual also.
– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space
To begin with a title?
At best, titles are a meta-drama for the work itself. A kind of lens of language through which we project. At worst? An accompanying tag, existing somewhere between name, date and materials. The magnet for nervous gallery spectators; the default approach for nervous writers.
There are titles by Maud Cotter that point to the minor crisis of everyday life, that suggestively correspond with Cotter’s use (and disuse) of domestic objects in her sculptural works. Crying over spilt milk, or A slip of the tongue, for instance – both titles borrowing from sayings that are commonly used to shore-up a potentially embarrassing social situation or faux pas. In a similar way to the operation of these titles, Cotter’s work takes us to a point where familiarity and recognitions of polite order give way to unspoken, darker undercurrents and perversions of form.
More Than One Way Out, Not the full story, and Waiting for the future are titles that conjure a more existential and elemental drama. Less enclosed, anticipating, and elusive, these titles suggest a tentative status: the artwork existing somewhere along the road of certitude. Furthermore, these are titles that are part of each sculpture’s consistency: part of its dynamic, its brain, and its vocabulary. More Than One Way Out, for instance: words that we might imagine emitting from the sculpture like a voice, as though inside the work itself there was an active organism, expressly seeking an exit.
Life has settled among and on top of things, as on top of objects that need neither oxygen nor food, are dead without decaying, always at hand without being immortal; on the backs of these things, as though they were the most familiar scene, culture was established.
– Ernst Bloch, Traces
To begin with an object?
If recent sculpture by Maud Cotter could be said to incorporate a range of objects and materials, then there are certain objects that suggest themselves as starting points to the work as a whole. In A Gesture of Belief in the Built World it is the ceramic sauceboat that acts as the formal lynchpin to the arrangement, but also the source of emissions: seeming to produce to fountain of congelated matter and to a structure of steel that resembles the overrun ruins of a Buckminster Fuller experiment.
It could be similarly said of the decorative plates in Fallen; one element among many in this work, arranged on the wall amid a set of three corner shelves. These plates seem to exude extraneous matter, expelling plastic filaments and toy animals that hang suspended between the wall and the floor. In both of these works, it is found objects – the sauceboat and plates – that provide the space and the setting for more organic forms and indeterminable endings to develop; as if the restraint of domestic utility were seething within these objects, always threatening to bubble over. Whether a table, crockery, or office equipment, Cotter’s chosen objects are considered for the space they assume by habitual use and design. They enter into Cotter’s sculptural arrangements sucking on the memory of routine domesticity and the habits of handling. And yet, these objects are never presented simply as they are. Appended with seemingly incompatible, foreign materials, and often quite-literally ‘turned on their head’ – Cotter’s treatment of objects seem to draw in our recognitions, only to expel our recognitions in turn.
For ought we can know a priori, matter may contain the source or spring of order originally, within itself…
– David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature
The objects in Cotter’s work are also chosen for their particularlity as vessels that shape, withhold and propel the transfer of formal properties, as they extend from one thing to the next in the entire sum of Cotter’s sculptural arrangements. We might describe works such as A Gesture of Belief in the Built World with a certain formal causality: beginning with a found object, unfolding through a liquiform mass of plaster and onto a modular lattice-like structure of steel. The work is not so much the bringing together of these separate elements in a force of contradiction; the work is more a system of channels, intuitive with one another, that follow the same directional flow.
Cotter’s use of objects encourages any description of these objects to be accompanied with performative verbs. In her work, we find that sauceboats emit and plates exude; cups anticipate liquids, and mirrors seek to extend their allocated space. It results in a sense of objects not as fixed entities, but capable of pro-activity and determined character. In this regard, we might return to consider the detectable ‘voice’ in the title of the work More Than One Way Out. The sculpture consists of three tables, each with legs that have been individually ornamented – some sourced from reclaimed furniture, others newly fabricated. If we allow ourselves to imagine the words of the title uttered by the inner character of sculpture itself, then we also come to assert that the sculpture has a determination of its own dual being and becoming. As Cotter herself has described of this work: ‘they courteously allow themselves to look like tables, but they are walking out of what they are’.
The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.
– Michael Foucault, Of Other Spaces
To begin with a space?
A set of circumstances, perhaps. The features of the room, it’s scale and dimensions. A different country, the gallery wall, or none of the above? In recent years, Cotter has shared the approach of many artists in working across a number of sites and locations. While, for some, this would be a simple question of opportunity and facility, for Cotter it suggests itself in other ways. The transfer of one space into another has become a definitive feature of Cotter’s work, almost as though the principles of travel, mobility, and multiplicity, have absorbed themselves completely.
We might consider the transfer of space in terms of Cotter’s use of objects (as already stated), or else more explicitly in her interventions into the gallery space, which have included discreet elements of wall painting and architectural modification.
There are also works that seem to extend space as much as they absorb it. Waiting for the Future is such a work, combining an upward cascade of glass and mirrored table surfaces, with a downward entropic slide of cups, saucers, linked with precarious limbs of more-formless matter. Waiting for the Future seems to transmit space – recasting the surrounding space of the room, and yet also retrenching and swallowing space like a virus. To continue the viral metaphor further, we might consider her recent installation Rumpus Room, where the entire gallery space becomes contaminate, as sculptural elements track across the floor, extend from the ceiling, and connect to walls: searching out all perimeters with an assimilating touch.
Cotter’s work seems to resist closure, just as it resists the reconciliations that are suggested by any clear beginnings. How is any ending appropriate, in considering work that reaches forward at every attempt to call it back? Borrowed words from another spatial fantasist will have to suffice, and the short story of Ersilia by Italo Calvino, seems more than sufficient in describing the pulse of Cotter’s work:
He describes the fictional city of Ersilia, a city networked with coloured strings that stretch from building to building, physically mapping the relationships that exist within it. Each of these strings colour-coded according to the nature of relationship, whether based upon family, trade, authority, or agency. As these relationships develop over time, strings are added, criss-crossing one another, and increasingly becoming entangled. Eventually, there comes a point when Ersilia’s inhabitants are no longer able to manoeuvre through the city effectively, with string blocking every entrance and pathway. The day comes when the inhabitants are faced with no other option than to emigrate – dismantling all of Ersilia’s buildings, before beginning a journey to another location where a new city and new relationships can be built. Onwards they go, leaving Ersilia as nothing other than the “spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”
Matt Packer, 2010